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Ultimate insider city guide: Sydney

Author: Melissa Moody

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With its awesome beaches, sensational seafood, stunning sights and a laidback lifestyle, one city tops everyone’s bucket list.

Picture Sydney, and its magnificent harbour will be the first image that springs to mind. All the major cruise lines dock here, and yes, it is an amazing spot, thanks to that world-famous opera house and the majestic harbour bridge with its 500-metre span. But there’s much more to Australia’s capital than its show-stopping entrance.

For starters, this sunny, cosmopolitan city is surrounded by magnificent beaches including world-famous Bondi, family-friendly Bronte and surfing mecca Manly. While each has its own character, all come with great coffee shops where you can sit back, sip an expertly made flat white and soak up the Sydneyside atmosphere.

But before you hit the beaches, head for the south side of the bridge and the city’s oldest neighbourhood. Known as The Rocks, this is the best place to get a handle on local history. Today’s Sydney is famous for its contemporary arts scene and flourishing LGBT community, and you’ll find a packed calendar of festivals throughout the year, celebrating everything from single-origin coffee to local films.

The food and drink scene is pretty amazing, too, with offerings ranging from traditional Aussie pies at Harry’s Café de Wheels in Woolloomooloo to Michelin-starred fine dining at Quay and Firedoor. The bars and pubs (or hotels, as they’re known locally) are pretty lively, so head for the loudest noise on the street if you fancy a true taste of Sydney's boisterous culture.

Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been over two years since Australia last opened its borders to visitors, so you can be sure that a warm welcome awaits – in Sydney and beyond.

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Must see

The Rocks

An enclave of narrow lanes, colonial buildings, sandstone churches and Australia’s oldest pubs, The Rocks is where Sydney began when the British first landed in 1788.

The area was almost torn down and redeveloped in the 1970s but citizen action got it preserved. Today, the area’s markets, art museums, street entertainment, restaurants and beautiful views of the harbour make it one of Sydney’s most attractive areas to visit.

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Sydney Opera House

Ten years behind schedule and 15 times over budget, this was a hugely controversial project when it finally opened its doors in 1973.

But Danish architect Jorn Utzon had given Australia – and the world – one of its truly great buildings, and 50 years on this amazing structure is Sydney’s number-one tourist destination. Most visitors just take the tour but locals recommend you experience the venue as it’s meant to be enjoyed – as a performance space.

Thrilling performances, delicious cuisine, and stunning views await you at Sydney Opera House. Credit: Shutterstock

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The Museum of Contemporary Art

Housed in an imposing art deco building at Circular Quay, the Museum of Contemporary Arthouses work by Australian greats such as Sidney Nolan and Brett Whiteley, as well as many pieces by aboriginal artists.

Big-name international exhibitions visit too, with recent draws including Anish Kapoor, Yoko Ono and Grayson Perry.

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Bondi Beach

This world-famous crescent-shaped stretch of sand is a must-see for first-time visitors. As well as dipping your toe in the sea and taking a selfie with the lifeguards, you can enjoy a visit to the famous Icebergs outdoor pool, followed by a seafood lunch at the Icebergs Dining Room.

This area is also a great shopping hub for Aussie swimwear at reasonable prices – perfect for showing off when you get home. And if you’re visiting on a Saturday, look out for the fantastic Bondi Markets, where you’ll find some great Aussie fashion and jewellery buys.

Art-lovers can view many unique exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Credit: Shutterstock

Snap and go

Sydney Tower

As tall as the Eiffel Tower, this icon of the Sydney skyline offers amazing panoramic views from its high-level Skywalk, where you can venture out on to a ledge in the open air.

It’s an absolute no-no if you’re scared of heights – but if you’re plucky enough to give it a go, just watch the likes rack up on your Insta-feed!

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Sydney’s British past is written in its street names, and this familiar-sounding district is a feast of fine Victorian architecture and elaborate wrought iron.

With many frontages now painted in gorgeous pastel hues, and with some streets still cobbled, this is another great spot for a photo to treasure.

Brave enough to reach the top? Sydney Tower boasts unrivalled views of the cityscape. Credit: Shutterstock

Mrs Macquarie's Chair

Carved out of the rock by convicts so that a nineteenth-century governor’s wife could sit and admire the harbour, this viewpoint now offers the iconic Sydney shot that everyone wants, with the opera house and the harbour bridge set against blue sky and sparkling water.

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Grab a bite

Doyles on the Beach

Want a taste of laidback Sydney living? Then head to Watsons Bay, where the Doyle family have been serving seafood since 1885.

Here, overlooking bobbing yachts and the distant city skyline, you’ll find classic fish-and-chips, snapper pie, prawn cocktail, oysters and barbecued lobster. It’s all good but be brave and try the pan-fried Balmain bugs too – they’re delicious.

To get there, hop aboard a classic Sydney ferry from Circular Quay.

Picturesque Watsons Bay is home to Doyles, the perfect eatery for you to sample seafood. Credit: Shutterstock

Fable Coffee

In a city that takes its coffee seriously, Fable on Darlinghurst Road stands out.

The food is superb too (try organic poached eggs with house-pickled radish, pork belly open sandwich and the popular sweet potato and corn rosti).

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Situated in the trendy Potts Point district, this popular veggie hangout offers the likes of tomato and chickpea miso and charred squash with fennel.

Desserts are to-die-for, especially the granita topped with seasonal fruits and squishy meringue.

Fine-dine at tasty vegan restaurant Yellow for the ultimate foodie experience. Credit: Shutterstock

Retail Therapy

City Markets

Gifts to buy? Spend the day exploring Sydney’s markets and you won’t be disappointed. Paddington Market draws the most eclectic crowd, while Bondi Farmers Market sells some of the state’s finest produce.

Other venues worth checking out include the weekly Glebe Market near the university – excellent for vintage clothes, local artisan handicrafts and delicious food stalls.

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Pitt Street Mall

Check out this pedestrianised shopping hotspot for home-grown Aussie brands including Seed, Sheike, Country Road, Rodd &Gunn and Sportsgirl. You’ll also find Cotton On, Cue and designer shop Zimmermann.

Next, take your smouldering credit card to historic Strand Arcade in the impressive Queen Victoria building – home to the likes of Koko Black, Leona Edmiston, RM Williams and Sportscraft.

Finally, no visit to Sydney would be complete without a look round department store David Jones – Australia’s equivalent to Selfridges and Harrods, with prices to match.

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